The Tom Cruise movie Minority Report is often held up as an example of what the future may hold, a world where the digital world overlays the real one and retailers greet shoppers with digital assistants offering deals customized to your interests. That’s still a ways off…well the time travel part is anyway, but Google is clearly leading the charge to get us there. I’m reading the new book from Eric Schmidt (Google’s Chairman) at the moment, and it’s clear that he sees the future in very Minority Report ways. He envisages a digital world where the rich countries live in an immersed digital culture and even Kalahari bushmen have cellphones to report in on herd movement.
This week has seen progress in multiple Minority Report ways. For example, the first reports are coming in from the lucky folk who were able to pay $1,500 to get hold of a pair of Google Glass glasses. The initial results are mixed but encouraging. It seems that if you actually read the instructions they apparently they work pretty well. They understandably garner lots of interest from passersby… much like early horseless carriages must have done. A widely reported side effect is the ‘creep’ factor that people assume they are being recorded by the wearers… and don’t appreciate it. The glasses communicate with your wireless phone to display search results, maps directions etc directly to the user. Another example of the importance of the mobile device in your pocket… in fact you could think of Glass as not much more than a wearable heads up display for your phone.
Another Google step towards Minority Report World comes in the release in the Apple App store of Google Now. The release is a few months behind the release on Android but now it’s made it into the store so even us poor iPhone users can play with this neat App. The premise is that your phone takes notes on what you are interested in, where you go, and where you are. It also gives you heads up on your schedule, email, and other essential parts of your digital world. Combine Google Glass with Google Now, and the digital overlay tailored to your world gets a couple of steps closer.
The part which isn’t getting as much play as the Gee Wizardry of Glass is how all this monetizes. It’s fair to say that Google missed the boat with the tablet and is still playing catch-up with Android on the iPhone. If the future is at least in part a digital overlay, then Glass represents the first serious take at delivering it. The fact that Google has amassed the largest basket of advertisers who will already pay for clicks in search, plays directly into this opportunity. When I look at Google Now I’m presented with cards for various local restaurants, it’s only a short step from there for Google to present me with offers from local retailers since Google Now knows my location and has been collecting my interests. Now add Google Glass to the mix as a way to deliver information and commercial messages as I move around, and we really do have the potential for the Minority Report experience which customizes commercial messages to my interests and locations. It also makes sense for advertisers to bid more for an impression on Glass when the wearer is in proximity to the product or location. Being in proximity to an object or location is a different kind of search… and arguably a very powerful kind of search as it took effort and time to get there. It truly is a brave new world, very much in line with Schmidt’s vision… and (so far anyway), a world pretty much controlled by Google.